Spiritual Reflections

Grief. If there is anything I have learned as a pastor it is that grief compounds.

Think of the friend, colleague, or yourself and that chapter of life where you buried too many loved ones, lost a job, received a diagnosis. Remember the weight of it and how it could have you crying on the floor behind your desk, barely able to get out of bed, numb even in the marrow of your bones. Remember how hard you had to climb to be free of it, how many skins you had to shed layer by layer, how one smell or song or word can still snap you back to that raw, awful time.

Being a pastor, I get to see the way community holds its hurting ones. I get to watch members pray for those who cannot; sing for those who cannot; hope for those who cannot. The casserole brigade shows up; cards flow in; flowers dot the landscape; it’s sacred and beautiful.

Why isn’t this the emotional and spiritual reservoir that gets activated when we see a man’s life erased? These are the moments when I see just how far racism distances us from God and from our neighbor, stopping us from loving in the way I know we can.

Before you get too enraged with the riots and looting, remember how grief compounds. Remember what we as white people have experienced — while living in a society built for our thriving. Now look to the grief and trauma that has compounded in the bodies of persons of color as racism mutates from enslaving to lynching, from segregation to internment camps to prisons, always denying rights, breaking apart families, blocking access to food security, medical care, and education. This is what sat on George Floyd’s neck this week and chewed through yet another black life.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has already told us that riots are the language of the unheard. He writes to us from Birmingham jail yet again:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Here’s the thing: The insecurity and danger these riots raise for us is an insecurity and danger persons of color live with every day. Also, can we please not conveniently forget that the one person trying to de-escalate the situation of white youth throwing rocks at the precinct on Tuesday night was a black man? What about holding our media accountable for who they show looting Target? If you notice in the pan of the camera, it’s a multi-racial event. So why are the up-close, longer shots only of bodies of color?

Please help us heal our communities. When your friends and family start talking about the riots, redirect the conversation back to George Floyd. Back to Ahmaud Arbery. Back to Breonna Taylor. Back to Philando Castile.

Back to the systems and cultural norms that consider these lives expendable.

Back to the way we are more disturbed by the presence of tension than by the absence of justice.

If you are white and interacting with persons of color, listen. Sit with them in their anger, and if it makes you uncomfortable, think of this as your gym time — your workout to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Do NOT offer hope or talk about how it’s not that bad, how things have changed. If you really need to say something, here’s your question:

Is there more?

Because there is. There always is when grief compounds.

Kate Payton is pastor at Glendale United Methodist Church in Savage.

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